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May 02, 2007



Welcome Marshall, and thanks for your interesting post. I suppose it makes sense that you've experienced both sides of the tourist/townie dynamic since you portray both so well in The Cottagers.

I hadn't realized, though, that Sooke is a real place. Did you get any feedback from real-life Sookers (Sookians?) about your inventing some odd and creepy characters in their midst?


Hello Max--and thanks again! No, you know, I haven't heard a thing from the Sookes, and to the best of my knowledge, the book wasn't ever mentioned in the Vancouver or Victoria papers. I presume this is a case of no-news-means-bad-news, but at least they were kind enough not to pan it. I worried a lot about offending, since Sooke and East Sooke (and East Sooke Park) are all real places. And places that have become very dear to me. I did a lot of low-level "research"--spoke to friends we'd made there, read up in the Sooke Region Museum, poked into the corners of town (especially on our second visit, when the book was further along)--in an effort to be as accurate as possible. But of course there wasn't a Cyrus or a Constable Collingwood there, and I had to mostly transplant my sense of the townies from my own townie past, far from Sooke. So I can understand how it might have looked like I was taking a dig at the locals, though that was the last thing I wanted to do. And I'm sure I got things wrong. In my limited experience, the book creates its own needs so quickly and comprehensively that unless it's a priority (as it wasn't, for me), an external concern like fidelity to the character of a community gets left behind. Or the fidelity quickly shifts to the created community. I'm sure there are two Sookes, and mine only exists between those covers. Theirs is a better place in almost every way, no doubt.


From Marshall's post, I learned where he must have formed the sense-memories necessary to realize East Sooke on the page...a continent away, in Connecticut. One of the real achievements of the book, I thought, was precisely it's ability to "take a dig" at the locals the way one takes a dig at one's siblings, rather than the way one digs at one's inferiors. Put another way, East Sooke is not just a place, but a psychology. Which is why it's important that Cyrus, an admittedly abnormal exemplar of Sooke syndrome, be granted what Grace Paley calls "the open road of destiny." And the further away I get from the book, the more Cyrus stays with me.

My favorite American writers of the last century have been both insiders and outsiders, giving us a similar enjambment of place and person. I'm thinking Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha, Bellow's Chicago, Cheever's Connecticut, Deborah Eisenberg's Manhattan. This is not even to speak of the 19th Century Russians, for whom Russia was an obsession. If you'll grant the comparison, Steven King has more recently explored the way being an insider in a community outside the main thrust of global capital (Castle Rock) can stamp someone's life. August Wilson recently completed a 10-play examination of a few blocks in Pittsburgh.

But I have the feeling, with a lot of the contemporary fiction I'm reading--especially by writers of Marshall's generation or my own--that place is simply a peg on which one hangs one's plot (I'm reading, and enjoying, the book of Tao Lin's stories right now). Some buildings, some houses, a name, real or imagined. Is this the homogenization of space at work? A momentary ebb? Or something I'm just imagining?


One of the things I appreciated about The Cottagers was the local/cottager divide. It's not a good thing, I know, but you can't help but feel that sort of thing sometimes.


You know who else I think is lately writing about place in just the way you describe, Garth, is Edward P. Jones. Have you been reading him? His under-appreciated first collection, Lost in the City, is an understated, quietly fierce refashioning of Dubliners, and the way he has extended the portrait of his D. C. in All Aunt Hagar's Children, including returning to various characters from the first book (usually revisiting them from oblique angles) I've found really poignant, unflinching, and expansive. And I find his development of such a book-bound community especially interesting because he's an author almost always writing about alienation. It seems like the essence of what fiction (alone?) can do.

Thanks again to all of you, by the way. You just can't imagine how cheering and--well, inspiring, frankly--it is to get all this feedback. This first book of mine and my first child "came out" in the same week last May, and I've realized ever since that the only thing that can come close to the satisfaction of having someone compliment your kid is having someone compliment your book.

Garth Hallberg

I was lucky enough to get a chance to review All Aunt Hagar's Children for The Millions, having reviewed The Known World some years back. Wyatt Mason, who I think is one of our best critics, wrote a much, much better review than mine in Harper's. Max and I, as quondam DC residents, have really appreciated Jones' multivalent use of setting. I especially liked "In the Blink of God's Eye," and the story about the old man with the jones (sorry) for "young stuff."


So much that's wonderful, here, Marshall, so thank you!!

I spent lots of time in Torrington in grad school, so I'm thinking about *that*--my best friend's mom had a condo up there and so we would crash on weekends.

But I am finding it hard to believe how right you got the PNW as an outsider--I want to write more about that.

Anyway, thank you for your book and for your time here this week!


Torrington--sure. It was the big city for us, a 20-minute drive I must have made a thousand times: where my friends and I would go for the fast-food, the arcade, and the R-rated movies. It was also the downtown main street I personally lost (we all have at least one, I presume?)--where my mother once took us to buy our shoes or get our teeth cleaned and we'd have a nice Italian meal on my father's birthday (I thought they made superior Fetticini Alfredo at the age of 7), and then, over the course of a dozen years or so, it all closed up and the town bled into its edges. I wonder if it's come back at all?

And thanks very much for your kind words about my attempts to capture the Pacific NW--I'm glad it seemed convincing.


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